Pre-War Yugoslav Air Force
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Yugoslavia
Air Force


Title: Jugoslovensko Kraljevsko Ratno Vazduhoplovsto
Title in English: Royal Yugoslav Air Force
Abbreviation: JKRV

History

Narrative Summary:
A small Serbian Military Aviation unit was first formed in December 1912, with French-trained Army officers. The unit saw active service in the Second Balkan War, flying reconnaissance operations. On 29 July 1914, Serbia joined the First World War against Austro-Hungary. Serbian aviators soon undertook artillery spotting missions over the front line. Although supported by French aircraft and pilots, in late 1915 a new offensive by Austrian and Bulgarian forces quickly overwhelmed the country. A new Serbian Military Air Service was formed in Greece, with French training and equipment. In early 1918 the first French-Serb units were transferred to Serbian control. These units operated successfully until the liberation of Serbia in late Autumn 1918.

With the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Kingdom of SHS), an Army Aviation Department was formed with Serbian and ex-Austro-Hungarian (Croatian and Slovenian) personnel. In 1923 a major initiative was launched to replace the WW1 era aircraft still in service with more modern designs. Contracts were placed abroad and with newly established local factories. Later in 1923 the Aviation Department was renamed Aviation Command and placed directly under the control of the Ministartstvo vojske i mornarice (Ministry of War and Marine). In 1930, the Aviation Command was renamed the Jugoslovensko Ratno Vazduhoplovsto (JKRV). The air arm was also known as the Vazduhoplovsto vojske kraljevine Jugoslavije (Air Force of the Army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) - VVKJ.

During 1940 Britain supplied significant military aid to the JKRV, to strengthen its forces against the increasing German threat. In early March 1941 Luftwaffe forces started arriving in neighbouring Bulgaria. On 12 March 1941 JKRV units began to deploy to their wartime airfields. The overthrow of the pro-German government in Belgrade on 27 March brought an end to hopes of a settlement with Germany. On 6 April 1941 Luftwaffe units in Bulgaria and Romania attacked Yugoslavia. Equipped with a combination of obsolete equipment and new aircraft still being introduced into service, the JKRV was forced to defend the country's long borders against multiple attacks from many directions. The dubious loyalty of some military personnel did not help matters. Yugoslav fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft artillery brought down about 100 enemy aircraft, but defending forces were unable to make any significant impact on the enemy advance. On 17th April 1941 the Yugoslav government surrendered. Several JKRV aircraft escaped to Egypt via Greece, and the crews then served with the RAF.

Key Dates:
November 1902    Engineering Captain Kosta Miletic returns from St. Petersburg after finishing Aeronautical Technical School
late 1909    2 balloons and a hydrogen station delivered
February 1912    Ministry of War issues a call for candidates to be sent to France for training as pilots. Six Army officers are selected.
23 July 1912    Mihajlo Petrovic receives FAI certificate No. 979, becoming the first Serbian military pilot
September 1912    Order for 8 aircraft, hangars and spare parts placed in France, with 2 more aircraft ordered in Russia
24 December 1912    War Minister Radomir Putnik issues a decree establishing the Aviation Command (Vazduhoplovna Komanda)
29 March 1913    Lieutenant Zivojin Stankovic and Sergeant Miodrag Tomic make first successful combat mission. For 45 minutes they observed Turkish positions in the city of Skadar (Scutari)
29 July 1914    Start of WW1. Serbian air units undertake artillery spotting duties
May 1915    Single French Escadrille arrives to assist Serbian air operations
mid-1915    First pilot school in Serbia established at Pozarevac
November 1915    Invasion and occupation of Serbia by Bulgaria. Serbian aviators forced to escape abroad
1916    French Air Force establishes the first Serb-manned Escadrilles in Greece
early 1918    Srpska Avijatika (Serbian Aviation) established from Serbian-French units
1918    Odeljenjie za Vozduhoplovsto (Aviation Department) created by Kingdom of SHS Army
early 1923    Purchasing commission visits UK and France to select new service aircraft
9 August 1923?    Vazduhoplovsto Komanda (Aviation Command) created directly under Ministry of War and Marine
11 October 1923    IKARUS, first Yugoslav aircraft factory, is established at Novi Sad
28 March 1924    First locally produced aircraft, SB-1 from Ikarus, were delivered to Air Force
1930    Military Aviation Command separated from Naval Aviation Command
1930    Military Aviation Command renamed Jugoslovensko Kraljevsko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo (Royal Yugoslav Air Force)
1938    Start of major reorganisation of Air Force units
1940    Army Air Force established
6 March 1941    Covert mobilisation launched
12 March 1941    Deployment to reserve airfields begins
22 March 1941    Air Force put on highest state of alert
25 March 1941    Tripartite Pact signed with Germany
27 March 1941    Pro-German government overthrown in military coup
6 April 1941    Nazi forces attacked Yugoslavia, with heavy bombing of capital Belgrade. Despite German and Italian superiority (6:1) and treason pilots fought bravely. For 9 days they flew over 1400 sorties, downing 90 enemy aircraft.
17 April 1941    Yugoslav Government surrenders. After capitulation some crews with their aircraft flew to Egypt and joined the Allied forces

Markings

National Insignia:
National Markings

Aircraft Serial Numbering System(s):
Aircraft operated 1912-1915 either retained the number applied by the supplier, or were left un-numbered. During the period 1916-1918 the French Air Force numbering system was used (i.e. manufacturers construction numbers). After the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918, aircraft initially retained their existing identities - whether French, Austro-Hungarian, Italian or the manufacturers. Circa 1929 an official serial numbering system was introduced. Each aircraft type was allocated a batch of numbers starting at 01 (or 51 if the batch was expected to be small) and increasing sequentially. There were no 'black-out' blocks to disguise the total number acquired, unlike in some other countries. Examples of these Evidence Numbers (abbreviated Ev.br.) are given in the table below:

Rogozarski SIM X 301+
Rogozarski PVT 501+
Fizir FP-2 601+
Rogozarski R-100 701+
RWD 13 751+
Messerschmitt Bf 108 771+
Fieseler Fi 156 801+
Potez 630 2071+
Ikarus IK-2 2101+
Rogozarski IK-3 2151+
Hawker Hurricane 2301+
Messerchmitt Bf 109E 2501+
Junkers G.24 3201+
Dornier Do 17 3301+
Bristol Blenheim 3501+
Savoia Marchetti SM.79   3701+
Fizir FN 9001+

This list appears to show Trainers and other Second-Line aircraft in the range 1-1000, Fighters in the range 2001-3000 and Bombers and Transports in the range 3001-4000. No official records of JKRV serial numbers survived WW2, so any published information is based on compilations of various fragmentary sources.

Note: Aircraft carrying fuselage codes such as D-4 for a Junkers G.24, S-08 for a Bf 108 and L-8 for a Bf 109E are actually temporary German civilian registrations for use during the ferry flight to Yugoslavia.

Unit/Base Aircraft Code System(s):
Unit badges were not normally displayed on aircraft although some Potez 25 units carried an insignia on the fuselage side (and/or on the fin), consisting of a simple geometric shape - such as a disc, triangle or diamond shape in white (sometimes outlined in black). On some aircraft an additional geometric shape was added in black in the centre of the white marking, such as a star.

During the 1930s a tactical unit coding system was used, consisting of a single letter of the alphabet, e.g. 'C', indicating the parent Puk (Regiment) or School of each aircraft. The letter was displayed on the Potez 25 on the lower surface of the upper wing at each wing tip. The Potez 25 had a shorter span lower wing, enabling the letters to be seen from the ground - the usage on other aircraft is unknown at present. These codes appear to have been discontinued after 1938. The codes used were:

Letter  Airfield  Unit 
N Novi Sad 1. Puk
R Rajlovac-Sarajevo   2. Puk
S Skoplje 3. Puk
Z Zagreb-Borongaj 4. Puk
M Medocevac-Nis 5. Puk
B Belgrade-Zemun 6. Puk
J Jasenice-Mostar 7. Puk
C Bela Crkva Bombing School
K Kraljevo Technical Centre

Aircraft

Aircraft Designation System(s):
No formal designation system used. Locally designed aircraft were named after the initials of their designers. Imported aircraft used the manufacturer's designation.

All-Time Aircraft Used List:
Alphabetical Order --- Chronological Order

Impressed Civilian Aircraft

Aircraft NOT Used:
False reports of aircraft on order or in service

Aircraft Losses and Incidents:
Aircraft Accidents - no information.

Organisation


Main Headquarters:
Ljesnica

Organisational Structure:
The Serbian Air Force started out in 1912 as an Aeroplane Flight and a Balloon Flight with the Serbian Army, and this arrangement remained until the Austro-Hungarian occupation in 1915. From 1916 the Serbian air arm was effectively a unit of the French Air Force, and the individual Escadrilles operated under French control. By mid 1918 direct control of two of these units had passed to Serbia, and the remaining units passed to Serbian control at the end of the war, in November. Squadrons from Serbia and Slovenia combined to form the initial strength of what became the Yugoslav Air Force. Additional squadrons were formed using aircraft captured from Austro-Hungarian forces and unlicenced copies of these aircraft.

By 1926 the air force was organised into two Air Commands (Vazduhoplovna Komanda), with HQs in Serbia and Bosnia, each with six Squadrons (Eskadrila) - fighter, bomber or reconnaissance - and a Pilot's School. The two Commands were later redesignated as Regiments (Puk) and within ten years the air force had expanded to 6 Regiments, each comprising 2 or 3 Groups (Grupa), formed from 2 or 3 Squadrons (Eskadrila). The air force was still primarily an army support organisation, with the roughly equal split of fighter, bomber and reconnaissance units maintained. In 1938 a re-organisation plan was launched that was intended to create a 9 Regiment air force, each with 3 Grupa of 3 Eskadrila, by 1943. As part of this plan, the JKRV was divided in 1940 into three parts: Operativno vazduhoplovstvo (Operational Air Force) with front-line and direct support units; Armijsko Vazduhoplovstvo (Army Air Force) for tactical support of the army; and Pozadinsko vazduhoplovstvo (Rear-Echelon Air Force) comprising training, testing and replacement squadrons. This structure was not fully in place until spring 1941, and in places still equipped with completely obsolete equipment.

Historical Orders of Battle:
Order of Battle listings

All-Time Flying Units List:
List of Units

Air Bases

All-Time Air Bases Used List:
By 1940 the air force was operating from 15-20 major airfields. Since these were likely to be targeted by any aggressor, a dispersal plan was being developed. During the 12 months before the German invasion in April 1941, about 100 auxiliary airfields had been created, but only about 50 of these were ready for use when the time came. Even these suffered from poor drainage and were really only usable by light aircraft during wet weather.

Military Air Bases Listing

More Information

Books:

Serbian Aviation Bibliography - to be added

Magazines:

LET No.1 (Yugoslav Aviation Museum, 1998)
LET No.2 (Yugoslav Aviation Museum, 2000)
Avions No.9-13 & 36

Websites:

YASIG Forum

Ex Yugoslavia and Serbia airplanes

Royal Yugoslavia Fighters

Dragan's Aviation Corner

Serbian Aviation 1912-1918

Pioneers of Serb Aviation

VVKJ i PV

Who was Sgt Mihajlo Petrovic?

History of the Serbian Air Force 1912-2005

YUModelClub: War Over Yugoslavia 1941

Vojska.net: WW2 in Yugoslavia

History of the Yugoslav Air Force


(Any additional information is welcomed.)

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First Created: 13 February 2003 - Last Revised: 12 November 2006
Copyright 2003 John Hayles.    e-mail: john@aeroflight.co.uk